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Many men define manhood in terms of their relationship with other men. They have fallen into the humanistic trap of “measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves” (II Corinthians 10:12). One expression of this is the “macho” image of physical and emotional prowess. You are a man if you can shoot, throw or chew better than the next man. You are a man if you do not fear or have tender feelings. Aggression, rather than dominion, is the fruit of this definition. But this aggression need not be physical. It can be intellectual. Some men assert their manhood by their shrewdness in business, in politics, or in their respective profession. The effect is the same, however. Such men become predators, and the society dominated by them will become power-worshipers.

Nevertheless, this is not the most common definition of manhood. For the average man, the man of simple ambitions, masculinity is defined in contrast to the woman. Too many Christian men also fall into this trap of using the woman as the yardstick: man is what the woman is not; man does what the woman cannot, or should not, or will not. The result is a matriarchal society, which is a curse from God (Isaiah 3:12). For most women can do what most men can do, and in our day, do it better. If a man, whether consciously or unconsciously, defines himself in terms of his relationship to the woman, he will become effeminate. He may be mistaken for a Christian gentleman, but he is really a eunuch.

True manhood is defined by God. A man is a man only if he is subordinate to God. This fact is brought out rather graphically in the very Hebrew words used in the Bible for male and female. The physical parallels we normally expect are absent.

The word for male is zakar, which means “to mark.” It is the root which is translated in our English Bible as “remember.” This produces some interesting applications.

For instance, in Genesis 8:1 it says, “And God remembered [maled] Noah.” In Exodus 2:24, it says, “God remembered [maled] His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” There are scores of examples, which space does not allow here, but the conclusion is clear: the “male” is not defined in terms of physical distinctions, but in terms of a relationship with God.

In stark contrast is the Hebrew word for female, which is neqebah and comes from the root naqab, meaning “to puncture,” a strongly sexual term (the Greek word for female is parallel and means “nipple”). Thus the passage in Genesis 1:27 which reads, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them” would literally read, “… the marked one (By whom? God!) and the punctured one (By whom? Man!) created He them.”

Putting it another way, masculinity is having a personal, headship relationship with your Creator. This is maleness.

James Wesley Stivers
Restoring the Foundations: Essays in Relational Theology
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